Spike Lee premieres new short film that connects 'Do the Right Thing' to deaths of George Floyd, Eric Garner [Warning: graphic content]

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·5 min read
Spike Lee on the set of his 1989 film, 'Do the Right Thing' (Photo: Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in the 1989 drama Do the Right Thing. (Photo: Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality continued to swell throughout America over the weekend, social media was flooded with memes and references to Spike Lee’s continually-relevant 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. And now the director has made the connection between the past and present explicit with his new short film, 3 Brothers. Premiering on the Don Lemon-hosted CNN special, I Can’t Breathe: Black Men Living and Dying in America, and later posted to Lee’s official Instagram and Twitter accounts, the minute-and-a-half long video intercuts a pivotal scene from Do the Right Thing — the death of Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) at the hands of NYPD officers — with footage from the deaths of Floyd and Eric Garner. “What we’re seeing today is not new,” Lee told Lemon. “We’ve seen this again and again, and again.”

[Warning: This video contains graphic content that some might find disturbing.]

The video acknowledges that destructive cycle, opening with the text “Will History Stop Repeating Itself?” before juxtaposing all-too-similar scenes of police violence committed against Raheem (played by Bill Nunn, who died in 2016) in 1989, Garner in 2014 and Floyd in 2020. Raheem’s death in Do the Right Thing instigates a protest that turns destructive after Mookie (played by Lee) throws a trash can through the window of the neighborhood pizza joint owned by Danny Aiello’s character, Sal. At the time of the movie’s release, prominent medial columnists and critics infamously chastised Lee for potentially sparking real-life violence. “People said that my film Do the Right Thing was the cause of riots back in ‘89,” Lee reminded Lemon on CNN in a discussion over the root causes of the current protests.

Do the Right Thing has endured for three decades and counting as one of the most prescient and potent meditations on the troubled history of American race relations. And the premiere of 3 Brothers only reminded people of the movie’s lasting power.

The video also recalls the final moments from his Oscar-winning 2018 film, BlackKklansman, which ended with a montage connecting the film’s story to the Charlottesville riots in 2017 and the death of activist Heather Heyer. “I think that with this crazy news cycle, stuff gets forgotten,” Lee told Yahoo Entertainment two years ago. “I don’t want people to forget the life of Heather Heyer. I don’t want people to forget this act of homegrown American terrorism that murdered Heather Heyer. You can’t forget that stuff.”

3 Brothers is the second short film that Lee has premiered online recently. Last month, New York New York — his tribute to his hometown — went viral. And June 12 brings the release of his latest full-length feature, Da 5 Bloods, debuting exclusively on Netflix. The film will reportedly feature a character that viewers wouldn’t expect to see in a Spike Lee joint: an African-American Donald Trump supporter. “My mother taught me at an early age that black folks are not a monolithic group,” Lee recently told the New York Times. “In order to make the story dramatic, I said, ‘What would be the most extreme thing we could do with one of the characters?’”

Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in 'Do the Right Thing' (Photo: Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing. (Photo: Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)

In that same interview, Lee also made it clear that Da 5 Bloods — like 3 Brothers and Do the Right Thing before it — is making a larger point: “All of us, and humanity as a whole, have to learn to think about more than just ourselves.” He echoed those thoughts on CNN, noting the diverse make-up of the protesters currently in the streets. “This stuff is diverse: I’m seeing a whole lot of white young people out there who are joining with us in the show of our displeasure with this country ... The reason why people are out is because black people are being killed left and right.”

Do the Right Thing is available for rent or purchase on most video on-demand services, including Amazon, iTunes and Vudu.

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